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Justly, Mercifully, Humbly

When I was young, my mother always taught me that God loves every person the same, no matter what they look like or where they’re from. And I was so lucky to see both her and my dad live that out to the best of their ability throughout my childhood.

As the country enters what feels like another watershed moment in the history of racial justice in America, I am reminded of that lesson. I wonder why this is so hard for us humans to do?

I’ve seen a whole host of churches and Christians add their voices in solidarity with the protests going on around the world, and it makes me very happy and proud to see that. I see priests washing the eyes of the tear-gassed, I see pastors binding the wounded. I see Christ-followers of all stripes trying their best to be a source of healing and support for the hurting. I feel like the church in America is starting to get back on the right track in following the heart of God.

But I have also seen others use this opportunity to repeat the same old arguments, the same old yeahbuts, the same old whatabout-the-looters, the same old all-lives-matter-why-are-blacks-so-special…the same old things that do nothing to salve wounds or encourage unity or bring shalom.

And I guess those are the reasons why I wanted to write this article: 1) to express my solidarity with black Americans in seeking structural change and demanding that we live up to our ideals of equality under the law; and 2) to challenge those of you my fellow Christians who are not on that side, or are still wondering which side to be on.

I don’t have any specific policy advice to advocate for here. I don’t know what the best political decisions are that will most help our hurting black brothers and sisters. There are good ideas from people of every political leaning, and delving into political specifics is not what I want this blog to be about.

What I do know is that our fellow countrymen and women are hurting real bad right now, and have been for a very, very long time.

And while I don’t have political advice to offer, I do have have spiritual advice straight from the mouth of God that, if followed, would guide not only our conservative policies and our liberal policies, but our personal policies–the way we treat our neighbors (“good teacher, who is my neighbor?”), our friends, and perhaps most importantly our strangers–those we don’t know.

Here it is:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you?

To act justly 

and to love mercy

and to walk humbly

with your God.

Micah 6:8

That’s it. Act justly, love mercy, walk humbly. Words so simple a child can understand them, so profound that you could spend your entire life plumbing their depths and never exhaust their meaning.

I like how the CEV phrases it: “See that justice is done,
let mercy be your first concern,
    and humbly obey your God.”

See that justice is done. Not “hope” that justice is done or “pray” that justice is done. See to it personally. Active not passive. You do something about it. You take responsibility for ensuring justice.

Let mercy be your first concern. Not merit or deserving. Not payback. Not political ramifications. Not efficiency or cost. Make mercy your first response before anything else. Live your life so that mercy flows out of you like a reflex. Like your leg jerks out when the doctor taps your knee, strive to live so that mercy flows out of you without you needing to even think about it.

Humbly obey your God. You know what He’s just told you to do. Now go do it. And make sure you never think you are above learning something new or that your position is 100% correct. Be humble about it. You are not God. You don’t know everything. The only thing you can be certain of is that some of the things you are certain of are wrong.

Act Justly.

Love Mercy.

Walk Humbly.

1. Act justly. I don’t have a specific prescription here or advice on who or what policies you should support in order to bring justice. There are certainly valid opinions that run across all ideological spectrums, but wherever you land politically your overarching goal should always be to increase justice in the world. God is always on the side of the oppressed.

There are some who say that national policy should be handled differently than personal conduct. In a partial sense I agree with that. For instance, I think a nation has the duty to its citizens not to turn the other cheek if it is invaded by another. In another sense, though, a nation can live in a general spirit of non-retaliation, of not seeking an eye for an eye.

But when it comes to justice, it’s crystal clear that God wants national policies to do all they can to uphold justice and ensure that it is shared equally. Read the Prophets if you don’t agree, and see that God addresses Israel as a political entity and quite passionately tells them that they are to build a political structure that ensures justice for all, especially the oppressed and the poor.

For three sins of Israel, even for four, I will not relent.
They sell the innocent for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals.
They trample on the heads of the poor as on the dust of the ground
    and deny justice to the oppressed.

Amos 2:6-7

Hear this word, you cows of Bashan on Mount Samaria,
you women who oppress the poor and crush the needy and say to your husbands, “Bring us some drinks!”

Amos 4:1

There are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes
    and deprive the poor of justice in the courts.
Therefore the prudent keep quiet in such times, for the times are evil.
Seek good, not evil, that you may live.
Then the Lord God Almighty will be with you,
    just as you say he is.
Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts.

Amos 5:12-15

When the innocent are oppressed, the times are evil, says the Lord. Even if the oppressing nation claims to have God with them, He says the times are evil.

I hate, I despise your religious festivals [your christian conferences]; your assemblies [your Sunday services] are a stench to me. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings [go to church 3 times a week], I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings [tithe more than 10%], I will have no regard for them.
Away with the noise of your songs [your christian concerts]! I will not listen to the music of your harps [your worship services].
But let justice roll on like a river,
    righteousness like a never-failing stream!

Amos 5:21-24

When our nation stands in the way of the rolling river of justice, God does not care how ‘Christian‘ we are.

Learn to do right; seek justice.
    Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
    plead the case of the widow.

Isaiah 1:17

What is something you hear over and over again from people when sidestepping the issue of racial injustice? “Well it’s cuz the blacks have no fathers! 70% of them live with only their moms. If black men would step up and take responsibility for their own families then a lot of this mess would be solved.”

Yes, the “fatherlessness crisis”. It’s even been invoked by none other than Barack Obama, so it’s not just white people who talk about it.

Look, for my purpose right now I don’t really care whether it’s true or not, or to what degree. When most white people bring up black fatherlessness though, it’s not really a genuine concern they have, it’s a way to victim-shame and side-step the issue. Another form of whataboutism.

And I’ve got news for those who do say it’s a problem…you just gave yourself a job.

See right up there what God says to do about a fatherlessness crisis?

Take up their cause.

Don’t tut-tut about black fatherlessness. Don’t say those blacks gotta figure it out for themselves. If it is true that black fatherlessness is a problem, then God Himself tells you to get off your butt and do something about it and be advocates for those boys and girls!

What do you mean by crushing my people
and grinding the faces of the poor?”
declares the Lord, the Lord Almighty.

Isaiah 3:15

Well ouch. That one’s pretty on the nose in the wake of what happened to George Floyd (and others) isn’t it?

Woe to those who make unjust laws,
    to those who issue oppressive decrees to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people,
making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless.

What will you do on the day of reckoning, when disaster comes from afar? To whom will you run for help?

Isaiah 10:1-3

Woe to him who builds his palace by unrighteousness, his upper rooms by injustice, making his own people work for nothing, not paying them for their labor.

Jeremiah 22:13

Sound like any country you know? I love America, I’m a patriot, but you cannot deny that we fall into this category. Our ideals are noble and I daresay even godly, but our practice has not always been and that really matters.

He defended the cause of the poor and needy,
    and so all went well.
Is that not what it means to know me?
    declares the Lord.

Jeremiah 22:16

All this to say, that whatever your political beliefs are, left or right or center, make doubly sure they emphasize showing justice to the downtrodden and are defending their cause. I could have added dozens and dozens of more verses on this point. God is extremely, extremely clear on how you should orient yourself here!

The prophets are relevant…because they taught that the test of justice in a nation is how the weakest are treated.

Social Justice and the Prophets, Walter J. Houston

2. Love mercy. This one’s pretty simple. When a person is in pain, show them mercy! Even if you don’t agree with their politics, show mercy!

Think of the Good Samaritan – did he know whether or not the injured man deserved help? And remember that Samaritans and Jews were enemies. They were the Hatfields and McCoys. The Montagues and Capulets. You think Republicans and Democrats are bitterly divided? The Jews and Samaritans hated each other. Yet when the Samaritan saw the injured man near death on the road, he didn’t see an enemy. He didn’t see all the political and religious differences dividing them. He didn’t see a Jew who got what was comin’ to him. He saw a fellow child of God in desperate need of help. And he got down off his ride and helped him.

I believe that in the current age of the New Covenant (i.e. after Jesus) the Lord no longer judges nations as singular entities. But there is no doubt how he feels about national/political systems which deny justice and show little mercy to those on the low end of the ladder. It ain’t pretty. If you’re going to err on one side or the other, you best be on the side of showing more mercy rather than less. You should be showing so much mercy that people think ‘dang that’s too far’. Look at the prodigal father, or the field owner who paid all the workers the same amount. God’s mercy is equal but never “fair”. It is always extravagant and even a little embarrassing.

After all, that’s what God showed you, right? What if God had decided to be stingy with His mercy? Where would that leave you? So do the same to other people, even if you don’t agree with them. Don’t be like the good older brother. Be like the prodigal father.

3. Walk humbly.

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry

James 1:19

Rather than quickly jumping to defense (i.e. “not all cops!” “not all white people!”), be willing to listen to what black people are trying to tell you. They are not making this stuff up. Black people are well aware that not all cops are racist murderers and they don’t need to be told that not all white people are racists. All protestors agree that blue lives matter too and yes that all lives matter. But listen to them! They are not trying to say that theirs is the only experience that matters. It may be uncomfortable to hear, but they are trying to say that there is a chronic, inherent experience of injustice woven into the very fabric of their lives that is unique to black America and has continued unsolved for centuries. And, there is.

People don’t protest en masse because things are basically goin’ pretty okay but could use a little tweaking. They protest because they are in acute, deep pain and feel like nobody is listening. Right? So listen! Hear them! Before you jump to defensiveness, minimizing or explaining, take time to listen to what they are actually saying. Don’t look for all the ways protestors might be wrong, but look to mercy as your guiding principle.

Look, I’m not trying to be a white savior here or virtue-signal how ‘woke’ I am or any of those other things people say. I’ll take my own advice to be humble and admit that I might very well have some things wrong, or not right enough, or have some blind spots, or whatever else. I certainly don’t claim to be the expert on race relations. Many have written much better essays on this topic than I could ever hope to. I don’t know, this might not even be that useful. I just wanted to write something in my own voice to support my black brothers and sisters of the faith, of other faiths, and of no faith, who are in deep pain and grief right now. I don’t know how to fix it, but I care. I’ll keep on doing my best to live the way my mom and dad showed me, and I’ll keep teaching my kids to do the same.

My desire is to follow the heart of my Heavenly Father and be aligned with it, and I want those of you who follow Him to also be aligned in the same way. God is ALWAYS on the side of those suffering injustice, and God is ALWAYS on the side of the oppressed. If you’re going to go too far to one side or the other, make sure that it’s going too far on the side of justice and mercy and humility. Don’t err on the side of defensiveness, don’t err on the side of well-it’s-really-not-as-bad-as-they-say, don’t err on the side of yeah-but-whatabout. Err on the side of supporting the suffering. Err on the side of the Good Samaritan.

Err on the side of Jesus Himself, who came down and took up your cause when you sure as heck hadn’t earned it, and definitely deserved what you had coming to you.

Church! Christians! Brothers! Sisters! We need to get this right. Your friends, your neighbors, your co-workers, your fellow students, will see how you respond. Some of them may be so open to reaching out to God right now because of the acuteness of the moment. The way you act and the words you speak around this situation will have a monumental impact on whether they cry out to the God who loves his children, or whether they make a final decision to turn their back on Him for good.

The things you teach your kids, and the things I teach my kids–right now, at this very moment–will determine not only how the next generation looks at those who look different than them, but will determine how they look at you and me and the church for the rest of their lives. They will remember whether you showed kindness and loved justice when it mattered most, or whether you taught them an empty belief, lifeless, meaningless, hypocritical and devoid of power. Your children will walk away from Jesus, or hold on to Him, based on how you react to this moment in time.

I don’t have a specific answer or 5-step national plan that’s guaranteed to solve racism, nor do I believe there is something that simple. Except for this. Whatever you do, however you respond, in this situation and in all others, do this:

Act justly.

Love mercy.

Walk humbly with your God.

-Jeremy

Truth poorly defended loses not its truthfulness;
Falsehood aptly defended loses not its falsity.

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